U.S. backed fighters assault on the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa is imminent, Pentagon officials told The Washington Examiner.
The heads up comes just days after the first known delivery of U.S. weapons to Kurdish militias fighting ISIS in Syria. These Kurdish militias are part of the the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a coalition of militias focused on fighting ISIS. “I would expect to see the assault begin in the coming days,” the Pentagon official told WEX.
The U.S. began shaping operations in Syria several months ago under the Obama administration. The Trump administration and Secretary of Defense James Mattis bolstered this effort by deploying several hundred more U.S. troops into Syria and accelerated the air campaign against ISIS. The SDF have also reportedly told civilians living inside Raqqa to evacuate the city.
The assault is likely to be a long and bloody slog, reminiscent of the Iraqi Security Forces push on the city of Mosul. ISIS has shown its willingness to use human shields and deploy mass quantities of suicide bombers throughout the Mosul campaign and may fight even harder to preserve its self-declared capital.
The biggest threat may be to the nearly 200,000 civilians who remain inside Raqqa. Recent satellite imagery of Raqqa reveals an increasingly isolated city preparing for assault. The images show ISIS’ headquarters surrounded by two separate checkpoints and nearby buildings collapsed due to U.S. airstrikes. Other images reveal U.S. strikes on bridges to cut off ISIS supply lines, and massive tarps hung up above central Raqqa to avoid American drone strikes.
ISIS is also reportedly making all the males inside Raqqa dress the same to deter surveillance. The move is just one in a series of moves by the terror group designed to deter U.S. operations by means of civilians trapped inside the city. The group has now encircled the entire city of Raqqa with land mines and checkpoints and is also forcing residents to camp out in tents in the middle of the street.
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